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Flapjack Jesus flips along eBay

Religious images that hop out of the frying pan just don't get respect anymore.

By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 20, 2007


The grainy image emerged from a batch of Great Value pancake mix, bought at Wal-Mart for $1.25 - a suitably humble beginning for a wanna-be apparition.

Port St. Lucie resident Dana O'Kane said she discerned the outline of Jesus and Mary in the mottled pancake and took it as a reassuring sign from her recently departed father.

Her mother, the cook, thought it looked more like a bedouin and Santa Claus.

An Alabama woman, who wanted a gag gift for her soldier-husband about to be deployed to Iraq, bid $338 for it on eBay, only to have the deal fall through.

Finally on Saturday night, an Illinois man claimed it for $29.

Nobody's claiming loaves and fishes here, but it's been an eventful two weeks for a slightly deteriorating breakfast staple.

* * *

Dana O'Kane, 46, suffers from dystonia, a movement disorder similar to Parkinson's disease. She twitches uncontrollably and can't work outside the home, she says. The Social Security Administration has rejected her disability claim, so she sells donated items on eBay to make a living.

Two weeks ago, her mother was about to apply chocolate powder to a batch of pancakes when she noticed headlike shapes at the edge of one.

Her mother, though, did not want to be associated publicly with a Jesus pancake. But she did telephone her daughter, who lives nearby, to come for a viewing.

O'Kane said a halo over one figure tipped her off.

"I know it's Jesus and Mary," she said. "It's unmistakable."

She also hopes her father is sending her a message from beyond. She has already noticed other signals since he died in September, she says: doors closing by themselves, a pine cone rolling off her stove, a family friend who felt an unseen hand squeezing his shoulder.

Maybe her dystonia is going to clear up.

Why put such a precious omen on eBay?

"The whole reason is to come a full circle," she said. "It may open a door for somebody. It may tell somebody 'God bless you.'"

Her mother offered a more down-to-earth reason. She kept the pancake on a paper plate on her counter. If someone didn't buy it soon, it was going to fall apart.

* * *

Frying pans, eBay and spectral images have created amusement and disdain since 2004, when an online gambling casino paid $28,000 for a Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich.

Though that pop culture icon may have rewarded its buyer with a spate of free publicity, subsequent offerings haven't enjoyed such financial success.

St. Petersburg resident Rosalie Lawson found no takers two years ago for a potato chip that resembled her favorite savior. She still keeps it in a safe-deposit box, "just for fun."

An Internet search of "Jesus Pancakes" yields several recent sightings, including one that looks suspiciously like Sonny Bono.

Spinoffs include "the original JesusPan" at two for $29.95, which transfers a bearded image etched on its bottom to food cooked in the pan.

Jennifer Herring, 28, of Montgomery harbored no illusion of divine intercession early last week when she bid on O'Kane's pancake.

Her husband, an Air Force communications officer, was about to ship out to Iraq. She figured he would get a few laughs if she could present it to him as a talisman, she said last week. "We would call it St. Pancake the Protector."

She was willing to pay up to $150, she said, but noticed that someone with no history on eBay was bidding up the price. She figured it was the seller, using a bogus eBay account.

She got mad and kept bidding, not really intending to buy.

"It was a combination of giving a party and alcohol. I was just messing around."

The seller also noticed what looked like bogus bidders. O'Kane said she rejected the high bid of $430, because the buyer had no history on eBay, and accepted Herring's bid of $338.

News of the quirky sale made national news, even as the two women exchanged acrimonious e-mails.

Herring accused O'Kane of manipulating the sale and refused to pay. O'Kane said she was disgusted by bogus bidders and dozens of insulting e-mails.

Neither woman filed a complaint with eBay, and O'Kane re-posted the pancake Thursday.

Again, bidders with no eBay history showed up, one offering $100, another $1,000. When the auction ended Saturday night, O'Kane accepted a $29 bid by Stephen Kosmach of Wood Dale, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

O'Kane says she's going to donate the money to the Dystonia Foundation.

Kosmach could not be reached, but his wife, Diana, said Monday the purchase probably related to his offbeat sense of humor.

"I'm sure he's going to display it somewhere."

And she swears he wasn't going to bid a dime over $30.